“Protocols. What are they?” I’d distract myself. We didn’t have time for more, and I didn’t want to meet anyone with a damp spot the only nice outfit I’d been given.
“There are not many. As we know our roles once the memories are triggered, there is little need for guidance or wisdom on our paths to take. The Kardoval mainly deal with major issues; planetary-level decisions, disciplinary judgements, and all life and death decisions are made by them.”
Maybe the noodles weren’t so good. They were suddenly a nest in my stomach. “And if I’m a risk to you, I’m dead.”
“No. You would never be harmed. We’re bonded. This is just something new. They need to see you, see us, and make sure you’re safe.” Garjah reached out and gripped my hand, squeezing it. “Eat. It may be a while before we get another chance.”
He might believe what he was saying, but that didn’t mean I did. For all his confidence, the fact the Galactic didn’t know about Four Arms meant they had to be relatively isolated, and that usually lead to xenophobic behavior. If not on the part of the ordinary citizens, certainly on the more insular leaders.
And with the reverence everyone had when speaking of the Kardoval, no one would gainsay their decisions. I’d have to be prepared for anything. It was just smart.
The meal sat heavy on my stomach, but Garjah didn’t seem to notice. He strode around his quarters getting things ready. We’d arrive soon, and as soon as the ship was cleared, we’d be escorted off it. I tried telling myself it was just another fact-finding mission to learn about a new species, but the uncertainty was making me fidget.
That, in turn, was setting off Bouncer. I sat on the floor next to him, stroking his pebbly cheek and down his sleekly muscled side. He was turning into quite the specimen. “Can Bouncer come with us?” Who would take care of him if I wasn’t here?
“Yes. The Kardoval wish to examine the bond he has with you, and by extension, me.” Garjah slid a box out of a storage area. He came over and crouched beside me, holding his balance with one hand on the floor. Holding the box almost ceremoniously, he slowly took off the lid.
Inside a black set of armbands lay nestled in green fabric. The circlets were the faintest of jades, even paler than Garjah’s stripes. “Would you do me the honor of wearing these armbands?” he asked.
“They’re beautiful.” I reached out to touch one, expecting stone, but it had the cold hardness of metal. I glanced at his shining eyes. “Do they mean something?”
Garjah traced the path my finger had taken. “They were my mother’s. A symbol of all that she was, before she was taken away unexpectedly.”
“Maybe I shouldn’t—”
“You should,” Garjah cut me off to say. “Pryntiok was one of a kind, straddling two paths. She was both scientist and nurturer. It was my great honor to be her son, to learn from her. My father still mourns her passing, and poems are sung about her tragic end.”
“What end?” It hadn’t passed me by that Garjah had said she straddled two paths. His hand fell away from the armbands. “I’m sorry,” I backpedaled. “You don’t have to answer that.”
“I can.” He settled onto the floor beside me. He held the box on his lap carefully and leaned back against the bunk.
“She was out alone, saw an animal she wanted to save, and took a risk.” Garjah glanced at Bouncer and then at me, raising his eyebrow.
“Oh, that’s different,” I said.
“He’s not dangerous.”
Garjah rolled his eyes. “Ahem.” The noise held all his contempt for that idea. Bouncer lifted one ear, his gaze shifting to Garjah.
Okay, so maybe he was. Bouncer was definitely smart. He knew when we were speaking about him.
“Are you sure you want me to wear those, though?”
“Pryntiok was rare, almost one of a kind. You know how our memories work, how we learn, but she was different.”
He didn’t have to reinforce that quite so strongly. I’d heard the mutters and looks when Seedrah took me to get food. “It won’t make me more like you,” I warned him. “Wearing clothes like yours, jewelry. It could backfire. Maybe I should wear my old stuff.”
“It is not proper.” Garjah and I had had this argument, and it was one he’d won. “We go before the Kardoval. I would mark you as rare and unique as my mother, who was revered across the nine continents and known through four quadrants for her skills.”
Mark me? My nostrils flared. I’d marked him, and now he carried my scent. Did that not mean the same to him. “Why do you need to mark me?”
“I don’t need to,” he said quietly. “I want to.” Lifting a band from the fabric, Garjah held it out on a flat palm. “Please take it.”
Hesitating, I finally closed my hand over the outer edge of the ring. Slipping it over my left arm, I slid it up until it lodged around my bicep just below my armpit. When I took the second and went to put it over the opposite arm, Garjah shook his head. “No, no, you are not a fighter. Not security. You place both the bands on the left side.”
The metal warmed a second after I put it on, then it tightened. When I looked down, any looseness was gone, and they were like they’d grown out of my skin. I had the pants, the boots, and now the jewelry. I could take my cerops. Surely I could take my handheld. I’d snuck it into a pocket. “All set, then?”
“We are.” No sooner did he say that, than the ship hit atmosphere, shuddering around us.
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